PHILIPPINES: Police and military’s union to investigate killing a ‘systematic cover-up’

January 13, 2007

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission 

PHILIPPINES: Police and military’s union to investigate killing a ‘systematic cover-up’

On January 10, the head of Task Force Usig, Gen. Avelino Razon Jr., announced the creation of a link with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). The police task force was established as a special unit to purportedly investigate the unabated killing of activists in the country. Razon remarked that he was confident that the link with the military “could further boost its [task force] efficiency in solving the killings” and that they are now “discuss[ing] options by which the military can help in the speedy resolution of the cases.”

This action taken by the Philippine National Police (PNP) once again casts serious doubts regarding the seriousness and sincerity on the part of the government to resolve, if not stop, the persistent killing of activists and its efforts to punish the perpetrators. This decision has further created questions of legitimacy of the government’s intent and actions and further isolates the families of the dead, the survivors and the witnesses to the possibility of seeking redress and justice. The military, having neither the training nor any constitutional mandate to perform investigative duties, would thus have a role in conducting what should be police investigations. The military, however, has no business at all to intervene in police work.

Moreover, even if these two institutions-the police and the military-have legitimate reasons for cooperating, the question remains of how they can convince victims and human rights group to cooperate with them to warrant an effective, impartial and independent investigation, for the police and military have either been accused of being responsible for the killings or for encouraging them, and thus, it will be difficult to persuade victims and human rights organisations to collaborate with them. Instead of boosting the efficiency of efforts to resolve these killings, there are serious concerns about the possibility of a “systematic cover-up.”

In recent times, Task Force Usig and the AFP have made unjustifiable and premature statements towards victims and human rights groups about the pattern of these killings and about who are the perpetrators in the absence of any judicial proceedings. They have also made attacks to discredit local, national and international human rights organisations deeply involved in advocating an end to these killings and have instead merely defended the government’s human rights record. Moreover, they have condemned victims and local groups for sending information they consider wrong or misleading and with the intent to “destabilise” and put the government to “shame.” The complete indifference and deep-rooted bias by the police and military against human rights victims and groups helping them is public knowledge as well. Is it not evident that despite the task force’s creation and the launching of other task forces in the past year that their achievements have been completely negligible?

The police are also creating misconceptions and distortions about how cases are efficiently being solved nor can the AFP be of assistance as the military lacks the mandate and expertise to do so. Rather, it is the duty of the police to conduct investigations, gather factual evidence and submit them to the court for prosecution and for the court to ensure that proper judicial proceedings are held. Only when the court decides to dismiss or convict after extensive and fair court proceedings can a case be considered solved. The focus of the police should be on whether these objectives are being met.

Since Task Force Usig was created in May 2006, it has yet to gain confidence and trust among most of the families of the dead, witnesses and human rights groups that their investigations will lead to an effective prosecution in court and are not simply an attempt to cover-up the killings. The answer is evident from the negligible number of convictions it has achieved-none!

Furthermore, the task force has yet to prove its capability to protect the families of the victims, survivors and witnesses until the end of judicial proceedings. Although the task force has long acknowledged the need to effectively implement the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act (RA 6981), it has completely failed to do so by taking appropriate actions in coordination with its implementing agency, the Department of Justice (DoJ). Moreover, the DoJ has yet to seriously consider the effective implementation of this law as a priority.

It is now part of life in the Philippines that victims and families of the dead have no protection and that witnesses fear coming forward and being exposed to risk for lack of protection. A government which claims to uphold respect for human rights, both in the country and abroad, but fails to provide redress by implementing laws to protect its citizens deserves strong condemnation. What can be observed within the system is a fast deteriorating and ineffective mechanism to uphold the rule of law. Despite an urgent need to have the witness protection law and other laws vital to ending these killings enforced, neither the task force nor the Justice Department consider the enforcement of these laws to be a pressing matter.

What is urgently required, however, is an independent body free from any control or influence from the executive branch of government and the security forces and that has a clear mandate to carry out credible and impartial investigations. It must also have sufficient resources to do its work, have power to prosecute and be able to provide protection to families of the victims, survivors and witnesses until the judicial proceedings end. Unless these basic elements are ensured, the government’s political will and sincerity to afford redress for victims and prosecute and punish perpetrators remains under serious suspicion. It is not the number of task forces and bodies created that measures the sincerity and political will of the government to end these killings but whether victims obtain redress for their grievances and that perpetrators are punished.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-011-2007
Countries : Philippines,